24 Dec European Christmas Markets through Four Countries
As the temperatures start to drop and winter starts to set in, so does the holiday spirit. Festive lights, spicy mulled wine, tasty treats, local handicrafts and holiday cheer are all overflowing at holiday markets and a visit is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. Christmas markets originated in Germany, and the tradition can now be found throughout the world.
I have wanted to visit the Christmas markets in Europe for as long as I can remember. This year we finally made that dream come true, and it was as fantastic as I had hoped! Because of a last minute work obligation, what started off as a summer trip through Europe, eventually turned into a Christmas market tour through Europe. I originally wanted to visit the famous market in Nuremberg, Germany, but after a series of changes for a variety of logistical and timing reasons, we decided to head to four cities: Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; and Berlin, Germany.
We worked this trip into a two week timeframe, and while we wanted to spend more time in each city, we ended up settling with the bulk of our days split between Budapest and Berlin with quick stopovers in Bratislava and Vienna. It was so much fun exploring market after market and noticing the small differences at each one. Here are some of our favorite photos and a recap of the Christmas markets we visited in each city.
Over the course of five days, we wandered around Budapest and happened upon numerous markets. Some were small—only a half block long—and others took up large squares, offering block after block of festivities. We visited the markets at Vorosmarty Square, St Stephen’s Basilica, Erzsebet Square, and several smaller markets that we wandered by and never learned the names of. While the market at Vorosmarty was by far the busiest (probably because we visited on a Saturday), the others were more comfortably packed.
We would have to say the Saint Stephen’s Basilica market was our favorite—we loved the light show that took place on the front of the basilica!
Some of the common foods at the markets were chimney cakes, langos, roasted chestnuts, sausages, goulash soup, parlor candy, strudel and stuffed cabbage. And, to drink, mulled wine was available in a variety of fruit flavors! We tested out the langos, strudel and stuffed cabbage at the Central Market on a food and cooking tour, so we didn’t try them again at the Christmas markets; however, we did purchase mulled wine and a chimney cake cone with delicious chocolate inside.
We were lucky with our accommodations in Bratislava—we used reward points and scored an amazing room at the Radisson Blu Hotel, and one of the main Christmas markets was right out our front door! While the Bratislava markets all have handmade crafts and lots of beeswax products, we found a large focus on food and drink stands. We visited Hviezdoslav’s square (the market that was right outside of our hotel), Old Town Hall’s court, and the market that spans both Frantiskanske square and the Main square.
When we arrived at our hotel the first day of our Bratislava visit, we were starving, so our first stop was to the Christmas market for a late lunch. We ordered Ciganska Pecienka, which is basically a chicken (or pork) sandwich with mustard and onion—a very popular dish at the markets in Bratislava. For desert, we had a Bratislava roll and lokše (potato pancakes) with Nutella. There are savory lokše options, as well, but we went with the sweet option!
Our favorite was the market at the Main square because we went up the tower of the Old Town Hall at sunset and witnessed some amazing views overlooking the market! We also caught a gospel choir concert and sampled some amazing treats at this market, too.
At the Main square market, we ordered a Trdelnik (chimney cake) after a nice older gentleman insisted we try a bite of his. It was so warm and delicious that we couldn’t resist!
In addition to mulled wine, they also offer Medovina, which is a honey wine, and Punc, which is a fruit punch oftentimes with actual fruit pieces in it, so I just had to try both. They were both delicious but I think the punch might have been my favorite hot drink from the entire trip!
Our time in Vienna was very limited—we only spent one night in the city as we had a flight from Vienna to Berlin the next morning. That meant we had a lot of ground to cover in just one day! We were planning on checking out two markets, but we stumbled on so many by the end of the night that I had lost count. Our first market stop was at the Schönbrunn Palace market as it was near our hotel—we planned on walking over to the palace for a look at the grounds, and didn’t even realize there would be a market! It worked out well because we were starving—we tried potato soup in a bread bowl, a baked potato with all the fixings and the most delicious fresh filled vanilla cream donut that we’ve ever tasted.
The two markets we were planning on visiting were the Weihnachtsmarkt am Stephansplatz and Wiener Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz, but when we stepped off the subway we walked straight into the Art Advent market at Karlsplatz. I loved the arts and crafts sold at the Art Advent market, and the twinkling lights and scenery were magical.
On our way to the other two markets, we passed market after market and light displays in every direction. Our jaws were dropped in shock for practically the entire evening—we couldn’t believe how beautiful and festive the entire city was. I think we ended up walking through seven markets; the only problem is I don’t even know the names of most of them since we just quickly passed through on the way to our planned stops. The market at Stephansplatz was pretty, but we were more amazed by the towering church in the background!
I think our favorite market of the entire trip ended up being the Wiener Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz. It was our last stop of the night and we had so much fun exploring. First of all, it was huge! There were plenty of crafts, treats, and drinks offered, and for entertainment we found music, ice skating rinks and a light display in the park. I have to say—the ice skating rink at this market was one of the coolest skating rinks we’ve ever seen—there was a traditional open area and then a winding track that resembled a frozen highway twisting around the trees!
For a late dinner, we snacked on brats and apple strudel, and of course, I had to try the mulled wine once again. They call it glühwein and punsch in Austria; the glühwein was a traditional mulled wine and the punsch was a sweet orange punch. The nice guy at the stand gave me samples of both, and I went with the punsch as it was so different from anything else I’ve ever had. It was all delicious and the perfect end to a fantastic evening!
Berlin had the most diverse range of Christmas markets than any of the other cities we visited. We checked out the popular Christmas markets at Potsdamer Platz, Gendarmenmarkt, and Alexanderplatz, as well as the more unique markets such as the Christmas Rodeo Design Market, the rooftop market at Neukölln Arkaden, and the market at Markthalle Neun.
All of these markets were so different it is hard to even know where to start! The markets at Potsdamer Plats and Alexanderplatz were both similar in the sense that they were located along the streets and squares in busy, commercial parts of the city. They both had festive food and drink stands and sold plenty of crafts. While both were fun to see, they didn’t have quite as much character as the other markets we visited in Berlin.
Markthalle Neun is a food market that also hosts a Christmas market every year, and in addition to the usual stalls inside, they add festive Christmas stands and deals for the holidays. They have an Advent Tree in the middle of the market and each day at noon, they reveal a new special discount taking place at the market.
The Christmas Rodeo Design market was interesting and one that I really ended up enjoying. The market was held inside and was filled with really awesome shops made up of small businesses. Think of an Etsy art market mixed with a Christmas Market and food trucks. I found so many items I wanted to purchase at this market, for both gifts and myself (but lets be honest, mostly myself). I guess it’s good that we packed in carry-on suitcases because otherwise I would have came out with my arms full! The food was really unique here, as well—I wanted to try everything, but my craving for sweet potato fries won out in the end. The only downside to this market was that it was four euros to enter; other than that, we really enjoyed it!
The rooftop market at Neukölln Arkaden might have been my favorite market of all, but unfortunately, it was closed when we visited due to high winds. The market is held on the roof of a shopping mall, and the entrance is a bit confusing as it is on the top level of a parking ramp. Entrance is normally three euros, but since there were only two stands open we looked around free of charge. The area is a bar and garden for most of the year, and there are unique art displays throughout the space. I was able to try the glühwein here, and I have to say, it was one of the better ones I tried on the trip. The views over the city were pretty fantastic, as well, if only it wasn’t raining.
My favorite market in Berlin was the Gendarmenmarkt; it was so pretty and festive, plus the food was more upscale and restaurant-like than the rest of the markets. The entrance fee was one euro, and we ended up visiting twice—once on a very packed Saturday and then again on Monday which was much more pleasant and less crowded. Over the course of the two visits, we ordered chicken and potatoes, currywurst, a custard topped waffle, a soft pretzel and candied macadamia nuts—everything was top notch!
Similarities and Differences
After two weeks of visiting over 20 different Christmas Markets in four different countries, we had fun comparing them all to one another. We noticed that the markets in Budapest and Bratislava served their mulled wine and hot drinks in disposable cups, while the markets in Berlin and Vienna served the mulled wine in glass mugs. When purchasing the wine with glass mugs, you had to pay a deposit for the mug, and then you could either keep it or return the mug to get your deposit back. Berlin was the only city where we found markets that charged for entrance—while there were several free markets, we also visited three that cost anywhere from one euro to four euros to get inside. Another obvious difference was the various regional foods from country to country—it was fun to get a taste of each regions special dishes!
While we noticed several differences throughout the markets there were plenty of similarities, as well. The majority of the similarities had to do with the way the markets were set up and that they were all decked out with an abundance of sparkling lights. Most of the markets were comprised of four main elements: food, drinks, crafts and entertainment. In addition to a variety of different foods, they all had some similar dishes such as sausages, strudels, chimney cakes, soups, and mulled wines. The one thing that stood out to us most was the festive spirit all around, so no matter which city or country you decide to visit, you really can’t go wrong!